Mavericks’ season ended in the tank

By David Mullen

It might be considered Pollyanna to think about the family that went to the Dallas Mavericks games at the American Airlines Center (AAC) versus the Chicago Bulls on April 8 or the San Antonio Spurs on Easter Sunday looking forward to seeing superstars Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving play basketball.  

Dallas is under investigation by the NBA for losing the last two games of the season on purpose, commonly known as “tanking.”
Photo of Mavericks owner Mark Cuban courtesy of Investopedia

Or to think about the young couple that chose those Mavericks games for their first date. Or to think about the loyal fans that devote a significant amount of their income for season tickets believing that the Mavs’ remaining two games would have playoff implications.

Instead, the Mavericks gave up on the season and their fans early in the second quarter of the Bulls game by removing a healthy Doncic and sitting him for the remainder of the season. Dallas sat five of its top eight players. Irving didn’t play in the final two games. On April 10, fans were treated to a starting lineup of guards Jaden Hardy and Frank Ntilikina, forwards Davis Bertrans and Theo Pinson and center Markieff Morris.

Couldn’t the Mavericks management have signed former first round picks Cherokee Parks or Jim Farmer for a farewell tour?

The Mavericks rank third in average game attendance out of 30 teams in the NBA. Chicago and Philadelphia average just a couple of hundred more fans. Mavs games are filled to 101.1 percent of the capacity at the AAC. Too bad Mavs management couldn’t even give their fans a 100 percent commitment at the end of the regular season. 

Dallas is under investigation by the NBA for losing the last two games of the season on purpose, commonly known as “tanking.” The premeditated effort — or lack thereof — to miss the playoffs and secure the 10th worst record in the NBA looks and smells like a typical tank job. In the spirit of competition and credibility, NBA commissioner Adam Silver does not like tank jobs.

A 10th or worse finish in the 2022-23 season would keep their 2023 No. 1 draft pick in Dallas’ possession and protected from the New York Knicks. The 2023 top-10 protected pick was included in the January  2019 trade of DeAndre Jordan, Wesley Matthews, Dennis Smith Jr. and a 2021 first round draft pick (later Keon Johnson) to the Knicks for Kristaps Porziņģis, Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Courtney Lee. Porziņģis is a talented player who could have helped the Mavericks if he shook his injury-prone past. He didn’t. 

By early 2022, Porziņģis and a second-round pick was shipped to the Washington Wizards for Davis Bertans and Spencer Dinwiddie. Despite solid play that helped the Mavericks reach the 2021-22 Western Conference Finals, in February, Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith and draft picks were shipped to the Brooklyn Nets for Irving and Morris. 

Three days later, the Nets traded their other star player, Kevin Durant. Brooklyn still finished with a 45-37 record, good for sixth in the Eastern Conference. Despite trading their two All-Stars, the Nets went 13-15 to finish the season and qualified for the NBA playoffs. 

In Irving’s first game with the Mavericks, he had 24 points leading Dallas to a victory over the playoff-bound Los Angeles Clippers. The Mavs were 30-26 and in 4th place in the Western Conference, which would guarantee home court advantage in the first round of the NBA playoffs. The two-headed monster of Doncic and Irving appeared to be an unstoppable force that would ensure the Mavericks another title run.

Instead, the Mavericks finished the season 38-44, in 11th place in the Western Conference and out of the playoffs. In essence, the Mavericks started tanking in early February. With both Doncic and Irving on the roster, the Mavericks were a stunning 8-18, and thoughts turned to the future. 

The backlash to the Chicago loss and the alleged tanking was prevalent. The Mavericks led by 13 at halftime, benched Morris and Hardy for the rest of the game and lost by three. Doncic rumbled that he may be looking for a trade before toning down his emotional comments. Head coach Jason Kidd told the media, “We were fighting for our lives, and understanding this is a situation we’re in, but the organization has made the decision to change.” Social media reports stated that owner Mark Cuban appeared happy after the loss.

Dallas must live with Irving as a rent-a-player. He is a free agent, although the Mavericks are hopeful that because of various rules and salary cap issues, Irving will remain in Dallas. He said he likes it in Dallas. Irving also said the world is flat. 

Holding on to the 10th pick in the 2023 NBA Draft guarantees nothing. A lottery determines the final draft positions.

This does not appear to be a deep draft. The first two projected picks aren’t even coming out of the college ranks, a growing trend. The expected No. 1 pick Victor Wembanyama, a 7-foot-5 French star, has a 14 percent chance of landing with the Houston Rockets, Detroit Pistons or San Antonio. 

At No. 10, the lottery odds are stacked against Dallas. They have a 13.9 percent chance to move into the top four and a three percent chance at yelling, “Vive la France!” Only three times since 1993 has a team with a less than three percent chance of winning the No. 1 pick won. 

Two months ago, Dallas looked like a solid playoff team. In April, the Mavericks players sit at home or at a Cancun bar watching 16 other teams compete for the NBA crown. The Mavericks brass are doing mathematical calculations with fingers crossed.

In a franchise full of head-scratching seasons, the results of the 2022-23 team may be the strangest. 

In two months, Dallas lost two winnable last season games and bolted from the playoff battle. They  have a potentially disgruntled 23-year-old star in Doncic, a confused coach in Kidd and a big trade catch in Irving that may test the free agent market after playing only 20 games with the Mavericks.

Mavericks’ fans deserve an explanation, if not an apology. The once bright future for the franchise is potentially in the tank.